Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oddities: Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball

As the game industry grew and became more mainstream in the early 1990's, licensed sports games became de rigeur, replacing the generic sporting titles of yore with Buster Douglas Boxing, Brett Hull Hockey and so forth.

But one particularly odd licensing choice was made by Hudson Soft, who paid controversial, aggressively foul-prone basketball player Bill Laimbeer for the rights to slap his name onto a game box.  Originally released in 1990 by Hewson Consulting Ltd. for the Amiga, where it was known as Future Basketball, the game came to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 as Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball:

The threadbare backstory was rewritten to suggest that a cybernetically-enhanced future Bill Laimbeer took over the NBA and threw out the rulebook and referees, making basketball in 2030 a very different game.  The gameplay is unchanged from the original, and consists of slowly moving one's awkward cyberpunk players around the field, trying to land a blow and take the ball from the other team in the hopes of getting it into the basket at some future date.  The game has that early-90's European Amiga game feel about it -- impressive music, some neat graphic effects and fine details, but the sprites are small, and it's generally a slower game than most console titles of the time.

The game was likely rushed onto the SNES to make the system's launch period -- there's a bit of Mode 7 animation on the title screen, spinning and zooming a basketball into Laimbeer's digitized hands, but the in-game ball uses a pixel-lattice shadow brought over directly from the Amiga, ignoring the transparency capabilities of the SNES.

The gameplay is fun for a little while, but it's no Speedball.  It was one of the first sports-like games released on the SNES in the system's early days, but I can't imagine too many players were eager to cough up the $59.99 retail price.

Still, the license may have been a good investment for the long term -- if it weren't for Bill Laimbeer's name on the package, this title might be as forgotten today as the original Future Basketball.

1 comment:

  1. I played that game and remember it was not too good. But it did give me one of the biggest laughs a game has ever given me. When the 1st half ended, the players on my team went into the locker room only to be followed by a buzz saw that was tripped just before time expired.